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The facts you need: What to do when you get food poisoning

The facts you need: What to do when you get food poisoning

Your family’s annual backyard Fourth of July barbecue is all fun and games until some spoiled food makes everyone sick. It’s a scenario no one wants to think about, but you need to know what to do should you get food poisoning.

Food poisoning is very common. There are 31 different known pathogens responsible for foodborne illnesses, including bacteria, parasites or viruses. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 50 million people in the U.S. get food poisoning in any given year.

While most cases of food poisoning are mild and go away on their own, severe cases may require medical treatment or even hospitalization. Read on as our Lakeview Hospital team shares what to do when you get food poisoning, including when to seek medical attention.

Why food poisoning is more common during summer

It’s pretty simple: Hot weather and food don’t play well together. As temperatures in Louisiana rise into the upper 90s during the middle of summer, it can become more difficult to serve food outdoors in a safe way.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture warns the sweet spot for most foodborne bacteria is at temperatures ranging from 90 to 110°F. Because summer’s hot and humid weather provides the moisture bacteria need to thrive, it’s a double threat. Bacteria can quickly begin to grow and spread, leading to foodborne illness.

The good news is that practicing food safety basics can help you lower your risk of food poisoning. Start here:

  • Wash your hands before preparing or serving food.
  • Carefully and thoroughly wash all fruits and vegetables.
  • Keep cold foods cold, stored either in a cooler or the refrigerator.
  • Be sure that all grilled foods are cooked to the proper temperature, using a meat thermometer to verify.
  • Store prepared food within two hours after it is cooked.

While these precautionary measures can help you lower the risk of food poisoning, it may still sometimes happen, which is why you need to know what to do next.

The signs and symptoms of food poisoning

If you develop a foodborne illness, you may experience a range of uncomfortable symptoms, mainly related to the digestive system. Symptoms include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Fever and chills
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Stomach cramps
  • Vomiting

Unsure whether you have food poisoning or a stomach bug? If your symptoms started within a few hours of eating a meal, particularly one prepared or eaten outdoors, you likely have food poisoning.

When to seek medical care for food poisoning

As we mentioned above, most cases of food poisoning will go away on their own, typically within 48 hours. You can treat food poisoning at home with some self-care:

  • Drink fluids, such as water, fruit juice or sports drinks, to prevent dehydration.
  • Eat bland foods as your digestive system recovers.
  • Avoid dairy products, which can cause stomach upset.

Adults can also try over-the-counter medications such as loperamide (Imodium) or bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto Bismol) to stop diarrhea.

Some symptoms are an indication that you should seek medical attention. These include:

  • Bloody diarrhea or diarrhea for longer than three days
  • Fever of 102°F or higher
  • Inability to keep fluids down
  • Signs of dehydration, including not urinating, a dry mouth or dizziness

Dehydration is a common effect of food poisoning, so being careful to stay hydrated is a key part of treating the illness. When you can’t do so at home, seeing a medical provider can help you get the fluids you need for your body to function properly.

Depending on the type of pathogen causing your illness, you may also be prescribed an antibiotic or a medication to treat parasites.

Think you have food poisoning and having trouble staying hydrated? Get emergency care at Lakeview Hospital.